This regular posting contains a list of pointers and suggestions to help
somebody who is approaching the subject of Genealogy for the first time. It
should be read by anyone who wishes to post to the soc.genealogy.* newsgroup
This document is part of a regular series of postings which are sent to all
appropriate groups and mailing lists. This particular document is posted on the
15th of every month.
The latest version of this document is available from the following
If you have any comments or changes, or any suggestions for new topics to be
included, or you would like to write a note for inclusion in the archive, then
please contact John Woodgate, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Contributions by:
- William Mills, Wes Plouff, Jeff Thompson, Cynthia Van Ness, Doni Wright,
Jane Peppler, Phil Preen
- Changes For This Version (9th September 1999)
- Updated entry for IGI.
Copyright and Disclaimer
Copyright (c) 1999 by John Woodgate. All rights reserved.
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I am new to Genealogy and would like some help.
For those just starting to research their family history, these short notes
- Visit your local library and read a basic book or two on genealogy. This
should give you some basic guidance on the methods to use, and where the
information is held. There are many useful introductory books on Genealogy and
family history, which will provide you with more complete and coherent guidance
as how to get started than you could expect to get merely by posting a series
of questions to the newsgroup or mailing list. In many cases specific questions
can be answered by library reference materials.
- Develop a plan. Think about which lines to follow. You have two parents,
four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. You have to draw the
line somewhere. You can use your time better if you develop a plan to guide
you. Start with talking with and writing to all your kinsfolk with your
questions, (while they are still alive), and do it soon.
- Start by talking with, and writing to all your kinsfolk with your
questions, (while they are still alive), and do it soon. Overly general
questions such as "What do you know about the family's history?" may overwhelm
your relatives. Asking specific questions (when did you get married? Who were
your parents? grandparents? brothers and sisters? Where did you aunts and
uncles live?) may get you more information. Use photographs and old family
possessions to help get the conversation started. Remember to start this before
the last of that generation passes on and takes all that valuable information
- Visit your nearest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or
Mormon) Family History Center. You can find them in the phone directory. The
family History Library catalog, on CD-ROM and microfiche, is your key to
accessing millions of original records and published genealogical works kept by
the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Microfilms can be rented for
research in the local Family History Center for a nominal fee. The local
centers have two excellent indexes on CD-ROM: the Ancestral File and the
International Genealogical Index (IGI). These are available at the URL http://www.familysearch.org.
- Document. You may need to review your sources again, someone may want to
verify your research, your work may imply something to someone who will need to
access the same records, or someone may need to pick up where you left off. Too
many people underestimate, or never consider, the importance of documentation.
If you have found information in a reference book, make sure you keep enough
reference material to enable you to walk back into the same place five years
later, locate the book and find the reference again.
- Keep a careful record of what searches you have done so far, even if you
found nothing. It may well save you from searching the same record or source
again in the future.
- Don't sell your project short. You might start this with the idea of just
finding a handful of people just for your own interest, only to find it blossom
into a lifelong study. If you begin with some planning, some learning, and good
documentation, then nothing is lost if it stays a small project, but you will
reap great dividends if your little project turns into a big one. Remember that
it is not uncommon to drop the project for 5 or 10 years and then go back to it
- Be prepared to step back and catch your breath. When you look at the
ambitions for your project and think about the effort involved, or when you are
faced with dozens of trails that you want to follow, it may seem like trying to
move a mountain with a teaspoon. When that happens, take some time to remind
yourself that this is supposed to be fun, then do some more planning to get
back on track.
- Watch for all the FAQs which are posted to the various newsgroups and
mailing lists. These Frequently Asked Questions (and their answers) should
answer most of your initial problems. A good place to start is the Meta-FAQ.
This lists all the FAQs and other regular postings and you can get the latest
version from the following locations
- Don't expect too much from online resources. Usenet, mailing lists and
other online discussion forums work best when someone needs to overcome a
stumbling block or an arcane problem. other online resources include name
matching and query services, software and files describing topics in genealogy
from the very general, to the very specific. However, they offer scattered
coverage and are often unfocused. A good rule of thumb is that newsgroups,
etc., only become useful after you start having difficultly finding your
ancestors by conventional means.
- Many people learn of a certain index or book that may be useful to their
research and immediately jump on the Net and plead for someone to do a look-up
for them. These same folks are often unaware that their friendly neighbourhood
public or academic librarian can issue a formal inter library loan request for
the wanted item.
Since librarians have access to OCLC, the International Bibliographic
Database, and the average researcher does not, they can quickly identify
another owning library and send out the request over their networks. It's
standard, everyday stuff for the librarians.
- Get involved with some of the projects going on at your local record
office, or even some of the on-line work being done by GENUKI. You don't have to be a computer
geek. Every pair of hands (and eyes) are always welcome.
- ROOTSWEB LIST FINDER. If you are having trouble finding a surname or
lineage mailing list, visit the RootsWeb List Finder at:
http://lists.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/findlist.pl. Type in a surname and this
new tool will tell you about any related surname lists on RootsWeb. It makes
your searching easier by using Soundex matching to find similar-sounding
www.woodgate.org/FAQs/new_user.html / 9th September 1999 / Webmaster